Film Editing as Women’s Work: Ėsfir’ Shub, Elizaveta Svilova, and the Culture of Soviet Montage
Keywords:Ėsfir’ Shub, Elizaveta Svilova, Soviet Union, montage, editing, feminist film history, women’s cinema
This study takes as its point of departure the history and contributions of two Soviet editors/directors – Ėsfir’ Shub and Elizaveta Svilova – in order to make visible what has largely remained invisible: film editing as “women’s” work. Soviet rejection of Western feminist theory and the repudiation of gender difference as a precondition for thinking of oneself as an artist meant that the “gender of the author as producer” played a much smaller role in the consciousness of these artists than for prominent filmmakers in the West.Ironically, this also meant that the work of these women in the film industry was lost to history: because their narratives often did not conform to that of their male counterparts and because they never insisted on their status as “auteurs,” their contributions were subsumed by the larger historical narratives that took place around them. They thus first “fell out of the limelight and then out of the film history itself” as Jane Gaines has suggested. Here, I look at the work of Shub, who invented the “compilation documentary,” and Svilova, who made possible Dziga Vertov’s rapid montage, as specifically women’s work: that is, cinematic work related to other types of female craft, such as weaving, sewing, and the like. In both cases, I am interested specifically in how we might disentangle these women’s editorial and directorial contributions from the male-dominated Soviet film industry, and place them in the larger context of a re-engagement with feminist film theory and the history of women’s participation in the cinema industry in the USSR and beyond.
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